And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled out, and the skins will be ruined. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. And no one, after drinking old wine wishes for new; for he says, 'The old is good enough. '" (Luke 5:37-39 NASB)
The new wineskin is made of animal hide with an animal bladder lining. When the new wine (not yet fermented) is poured into the wineskin, the fermentation process gives off carbon dioxide gas and causes the bladder (and thus the hide) to expand. Only a new skin has the flexibility to expand as the gas is produced. An old skin is stiff and lacks "give". The advantage to the old skin is that it is strong. It's less fragile and less likely to sustain damage from routine use.
The new wine contains tannin, which will help to condition, or tan, the hides. Don't miss this point. New wine doesn't stay new. New wineskins don't stay new. In fact, new wine in a new wineskin allows the new wine to become transformed to old, and allows the new wineskin to become transformed to an old wineskin. New wine is limited to new wineskins. Old wine is at home in either an old wineskin or a new wineskin. No special concession is needed.
This transformation is vital because new wine is not delicious. Old wine, however, has had time to develop a rich aroma and flavor. It is much more desirable than new wine. Jesus was not saying anything negative about old wine or old wineskins.
Look at this chapter in its entirety. Simon the fisherman was transformed to Simon the disciple. The paralytic was transformed to a walking testimony of the healing power of Christ. Matthew was transformed from a money-obsessed tax collector to Matthew the Evangelist, introducing all his friends to Jesus. Even in the discussion about fasting, Jesus said His non-fasting disciples would be transformed to fasting disciples.
The wine example was a word-picture everyone could understand. It was part of the vernacular. Fermentation was the only way available to preserve the fruit juice. There were no canning jars, refrigeration, or freezers. Their options were fermentation or wastage. Of course, fermentation was preferable, and that was the method used for preservation.
Jesus was saying that, just as grapes are transformed by a very clear process that moves from grapes to must to new wine to old wine, disciples are transformed by a process, too. New disciples must experience the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives to cleanse and grow them into mature disciples. They cannot instantly fit the discipline and study of a mature disciple. An old wineskin would be confining. Being a mature disciple, however, is infinitely better than being a new one. Mature disciples can fit into any situation or challenge Christ presents them. They are at home in flexible new wineskin conditions or more structured (possibly confining or difficult) old wineskins, and they fill either with the aroma of Christ in such a way that the situation becomes infinitely more desirable.
The only way to become a mature disciple is to begin as a new disciple, but no one should stay "new". Maturity is the desirable state. Like the wine, that moves from being a grape on the vine all the way to vintage, well-aged and matured wine, our desire should be to move from the "baby Christian" stage to fully mature believer in a steady process.
Where are you in your journey of transformation from new wine to old? What needs to be done to move you closer to maturity?
As we pray today, ask God to move us and our loved ones toward greater maturity. Pray that the process does not stop until we (and they) are as fully developed in our faith as our Lord planned and that the bouquet of Christ is recognizable to all we meet.